Basil Fernando - The disappearance of Pregeeth Ekanaliyagoda, a political analyst, journalist and visual designer, attached to LankaENews; the arrest of Chandana Sirimalwatta, the editor of the Lanka newspaper and the assassination of Chandaradasa Naiwadu, the JVP Urban Council member at Ambalangoda are among the acts of violence reported during the election for the executive presidency in Sri Lanka. They were all persons who supported the joint opposition campaign on behalf of the retired army commander, Sarath Fonseka.
The issue of violence in the election was raised at a press conference organised by the Commissioner for Elections this week. His explanation was that since the adoption of the 1978 Constitution the type of politics seen during the election is quite normal and that even in future elections a similar pattern of violence will continue. There has not been any attempt by the government to investigate any of the incidents mentioned above or any other acts of violence.
All three persons mentioned above are, or were, intellectuals who represent different points of view and are persons who dared to express their opinions even in the midst of a very intense culture of political violence. What is most saddening in the suppression of such voices which are trying to rise up against a general climate of violence and demoralisation and trying to develop a discourse on politics by expressing their own points of view for the consideration of the electorate. The case of the journalist and political analyst, Pregeeth Ekanaliyagoda clearly demonstrates the kind of violence that is used against the voices of reason.
"Sarath? Mahinda? Or us?"
Pregeeth Ekanaliyagoda wrote several articles in LankaEnews in the months prior to the election on the 26th January. He tried to engage his readers in a discussion on issues which were part of the public debate on the forthcoming election. In November 2009 he wrote an article entitled, “Sarath? Mahinda? Or us?” In this article he tried to enter into the debate that was taking place at the time about the entrance of the retired general, Sarath Fonseka as a candidate for the election. By using the debate that was taking place at the time he tried to demonstrate that the issue was not really about the two prominent candidates which were the incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka. He tried to highlight that the election was about ‘us’, meaning the people. He tried to reason out that what is at stake for us, the people in the election and the best ways of serving the interests of the people through the election. He tried to raise the discussion on the presidential election beyond personalities and into the issues that should concern the people.
He tried to engage in a discussion on dictatorships which was one of the issues of the election. One of the speculations against the retired general, Sarath Fonseka entering into politics was that, he being a military general, could turn out to be a dictator if he came into power. Ekanaliyagoda did not dismiss the argument lightly. He tried to bring in discussions about political experience from around the world to discuss the issue of dictatorships. He spoke of two types of dictatorships; one where the military establishes a direct dictatorship and another where the government elected through democratic means adopt the practices of a dictatorship. The issue for the people was to avoid the actual practice of dictatorship and for that they should look into the indicators of a dictatorship.
By examining dictatorships in Burma, Iran, Indonesia, Libya, the Sudan and Somalia he tried to bring to notice some of the practices of the dictatorial regimes. He identified the following: the lack of respect for public opinion and the law was one of the factors he identified in a dictatorship. He also indentified a lack of respect for the parliament and the judiciary. He further identified the lack of space for people to express and organise themselves as trade unions and other organisations furthering the interests of the people and the freedom of the civil society to actively participate in the life of society.
Having identified these factors as common experiences in countries that are ruled by a dictatorship, whether they are dictatorships which were brought about by the military or by governments initially elected democratically, he pointed out that all the features of a repressive society are present in Sri Lanka now. He pointed out that there is no respect for public opinion or the law within the country. He further pointed out the absence of the space for parliamentary democracy within the Sri Lankan context. He went on to enumerate how there is repression against people who engage in normal activities of furthering the interests of the people such as trade unions, opposition political parties, civil society organisations, those who engage in human rights work and the like.
Thus, he returned to the original question of what was at stake for the people of this election. He argues that what is at stake is to defeat these practices and to bring back the freedom which gives people the space to participate in political life which guarantees media freedoms and opens space for civil society to engage in resolving societal problems.
In this manner he tried to take the arguments between military dictatorships or democracy, not purely by those who claim to be democrats but on the basis of the policies that they advocate and the policies that are needed for society at this time. As an analyst and an intellectual he was trying to engage society on an intelligent discourse on the issues they should try to resolve in the coming elections.
He concluded his article by stating that Sri Lanka does not need a wretched dictatorship like Burma and dozens of other countries which have those kinds of regimes. Sri Lanka also did not need the Mahinda Chintanaya or any other kind of dictatorship.
In an article written in December Ekanaliyagoda tried to discuss an advertisement that was commonly used on television at the time which stated that people should vote for the sensitive leader, meaning Mahinda Rajapakse, the incumbent president. In this article Ekanaliyagoda tried to analyse what was meant by a ‘sensitive leader’.
First he tried to elaborate on the concept of sensitivity and insensitivity in political life in terms of the sufferings of the people. He began with the issue of the tsunami which affected Sri Lanka badly and pointed out that during that time one of the most saddening aspects was that there were people who were willing to steal from the victims. He said that the exhibition of this tendency during this great tragedy point out a tremendous insensitivity to the suffering that had become part of the Sri Lankan psyche. The capacity, even to rob from people in a natural calamity he saw as an exhibition of tremendous breakdown of morale within Sri Lankan society. Then he went on to discuss the very serious illnesses such as dengue fever, swine flu and other epidemics that affect the young. Accompanied with such tragedies is also the revelation of fraud and attempts to earn commission from the purchase of medicines and other basic needs of the people.
That again was a manifestation of an enormous morale breakdown within society and this is reflected in the behaviour of the ministers and others who engage in such practices on behalf of the government. Dealing with such questions of insensitivity was something very much needed within the country.
Then he discussed the common news items which appeared often of suspects who are killed in custody under the pretext that while they were being taken by the police to show where they had hidden their loot they attacked the police who had to defend themselves. Such a blatant use of violence within the policing system itself and the tolerance shown to such stories by society was a clear manifestation of the insensitivity that has developed within Sri Lanka. He discussed the insensitivity in the enforcement of the law and the disregard of the courts which has become quite an entrenched part of the behaviour pattern within the country. He showed that on matters that involved huge sums of money there does not seem to be any kind of sensitivity or patriotism exhibited by the political leaders of the country.
He then went on to examine the killings of media personnel on orders from those in power and the fake condemnations of such killings without taking any steps to ensure that justice is ever done in these cases. Mentioning such killings such as the assassination of the well known journalist, Lasantha Wickrematunge he mentioned that the behaviour towards the media and the critics is almost like that of Caligula in the Roman Empire. Journalists are killed or assaulted in broad daylight or otherwise intimidated and this was not a climate of sensitivity. He also discussed the foreign debt and other issues of serious financial frauds that had taken place in the country as an indication of the absence of a political sensitivity. Thus, Ekanaliyagoda tried to develop a discourse on political sensitivity speaking of what should, in fact, be the behaviour of a sensitive political leader towards the suffering of the people within his country and what is actually found in the country.
"Should Mahinda’s government have an extension?"
His third article was in early January where he discussed the issue as to whether Mahinda Rajapakse’s government should have an extension. He discusses the work of the present government, particularly on the issue of the main allegation against the government which is corruption. Giving details of the ever increasing corruption within the government and that all aspects of national life being involved in these affairs he argued that the country would not benefit from a further extension of the government as it would only mean a continuance of the pattern of corruption that is entrenched within the country.
He argued that no plan of action has been put forward by the government with the promise to end corruption. No legal measure has been proposed in order to deal with the problem. Instead the entire machinery of the state has been made ineffective against any act of corruption and this was contributing to a climate of corruption within the country. Unless this trend is stopped it will damage the economy and the future of the nation, was his main argument against allowing the existing regime to continue in power.
Creating political discourse
The three articles that this political analyst has written within the last three months before his abduction indicates an attempt to involve the public in a political discourse on issues that he considered to be important.
A political discussion within a country cannot take place unless there is space for thinkers, writers and analysts to put forward their views and for the readers to have various views to consider. Having such serious minded analysts enhances the capacity of others to have different views and thereby to deepen the political discourse within the country.
The silencing of analysts and thinkers would only strengthen the argument made by such people that a climate for proper development does not exist presently. That development requires the serious participation of the thinking elements within society, in order to give their points of view on all aspects of life, so that an enlightened approach could prevail to support the betterment of the conditions of the people.
Ekanaliyagoda’s family constantly told the investigating authorities and the public through the media that they do not suspect any other reason for his disappearance except for political revenge. Under these circumstances there is even greater obligation for the government to investigate this disappearance and other acts of violence that is taking place in the country. The election commissioner has warned that other elections in the country are likely to repeat the same pattern of violence.
It is now the government’s turn to demonstrate its capacity to change the course of the violence and it is the duty of the international community to raise the issues of the disappearance and violence and request serious investigations and redress for victims of such violence.
Basil Fernando is the Executive Director of the Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission.
© Sri Lanka Guardian
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Saturday, February 06, 2010
In a joint statement, five media organizations in Sri Lanka have condemned the recent attacks on two journalists attached to MTV Television Network. In two separate incidents last week, journalists Rizwi Mahroof and Shri Ranga have been assaulted by mobs backed by the local politicians close to the government.
The statement signed by Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) and Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), has pointed out "that police inability or unwillingness to investigate crimes against media and journalists has become one of the reasons for increased violence against journalist in Sri Lanka."
The full text of the statement follows:
"We five major media organizations in the country express our serious concern that attacks against media and journalists in the post election period still continuing, two journalists from MTV television net work becoming the latest victims.
On 2 February 2010 Rizwi Maharoof, Anuradhapura correspondent for Sirasa TV, the Sinhala language channel of the net work was assaulted severely. The assault took place when he was at the Anuradhapura Teaching Hospital around 11pm covering a shooting incident which had taken place in Ratmalwetiya, Eppawala. On 04 February police informed the court that Maharoof's video camera worth Rs. 200,000 had been taken away by the assailants after dashing it on the ground. His mobile phone too had been taken away by the miscreants, police informed court, the website of the net work reported.
On 3 February 2010 journalist Shri Ranga of Shakthi TV, the Tamil language channel of the network was assaulted. J. Shri Ranga, the host of Shakthi TV's Minnel programme, was assaulted and injured while he was taking part in a discussion in Hatton town on problems faced by the people of the hill country, reported the website of the network. Journalists Shri Ranga was threatened several occasions by various groups but to date no one has been charged by the police.
On both occasions assaults took place in front of police officers. It is the duty of the police to protect media and journalists who play the watch dog role of democracy. We would like to emphasis that police inability or unwillingness to investigate crimes against media and journalists has become one of the reasons for increased violence against journalist in Sri Lanka.
Now politicians, their henchmen, various para military groups, members of security forces has taken the law in to their hands in threatening and intimidating media and journalists in Sri Lanka. We are afraid that this trend is now spreading to provinces as well.
Our organisations express our concern that this situation has become a day to day occurrence in the country. As we have repeatedly pointed out it is the responsibility of the authorities to stop this anti media violence in post election period. We urge police to take action against persons who are responsible for these attacks and send a clear signal to miscreants that there will be no impunity for crimes against media and journalists. That is the only way to stop this violent trend."
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Russia will give Sri Lanka a $300 million loan to buy arms and dual use equipment from it, an agreement regarding which will be inked during the upcoming visit of president Mahinda Rajapaksa, a top official said today.
Rajapaksa is arriving in Moscow tomorrow, according to Kremlin. "Such agreement is being prepared for signing," deputy finance minister Dmitry Pankin said. President Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to hold talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart on Monday.
Rajapaksa will be on a three-day visit to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of his alma mater - Peoples Friendship University of Russia (PFU), till 1991 known as Patrice Lumumba Friendship University.
Russia will give Sri Lanka a $300 million loan to buy Russia arms and dual use equipment for its armed forces, Ria Novosti reported.
Moscow had backed Colombo in its combat against LTTE in spite of massive international criticism and during his Sri Lanka visit in October last Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had offered military assistance to the island nation.
© Daily News and Analysis
Saturday, February 06, 2010
By Bob Dietz/CPJ Asia Program Coordinator - It was good to hear Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa point out in his Independence Day speech on Thursday that the country “cannot be developed with harassment, gross punishments or by the gun.” But the sentence that followed that—“Discipline is not revenge”—gives cause for concern. Rajapaksa’s speech marked the 62nd anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain. It was delivered in Kandy, the heartland of the president’s electoral base.
Is a change coming? The government’s past policies saw media in Sri Lanka under steady attack as the country worked toward putting an end to its decades-long war with separationist Tamils. Or are the anti-media actions since the January 26 elections part of what Rajapaksa considers to be “discipline,” not “revenge”?
To show that that the era of harassment, gross punishment, and wanton gun-wielding are over, CPJ is calling on President Rajapaksa to use his re-election to address the air of impunity surrounding media attacks that have swelled during his first term in office and immediately deal with the problems that followed the recent elections. This is a perfect time to address the attacks on journalists that coincided with Sri Lanka’s long war.
Two issues are pressing: The whereabouts of opposition journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda remain unknown even to his family, according to his wife, Sandhya, who believes he was abducted. Eknaligoda, she has told local and international media, disappeared on the night of January 24, two days before the presidential voting started. He wrote for the Web site Lanka eNews.
And, while police have removed the padlocks from the premises of the weekly Lanka newspaper following a court order a few days ago, according to the paper’s staffers, the editor, Chandana Sirimalwatte, remains in police custody since being summoned to make a statement at the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) headquarters in Colombo on January 30. He has not been charged with a crime so far. The BBC is reporting that it was told by the director of the CID that Sirimalwatte is being held under unspecified emergency regulations, because a recent article might have violated rules on government inquiries into terrorism.
Politics have always been hard fought in Sri Lanka, and a large part of the media has always been partisan. But slightly more than one week after the election, it looks like revenge and harassment remain part of the political process. Little seems to be changing since CPJ ranked Sri Lanka fourth on our Global Impunity Index, a ranking of countries where journalists are murdered regularly and the killers go free. A 2009 CPJ report, “Failure to Investigate,” reported on the history of attacks on journalists and the government’s failure to bring any prosecutions or convictions in any of the cases.
© CPJ Blog
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